By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer
---- — FAIRFIELD — An angry mob, broken windows and thrown rocks interrupted the pursuit of world peace Tuesday.
Concerned security officers called the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office around 6 a.m. Guards were going to be removing one of their participants from “The Pandit Project,” a peace program near Invincible America Drive. A group of more than 50 participants was there near the van, supporting their peer.
“We were there for the safety of the public,” Jefferson County’s chief deputy, Bart Richmond, told the Courier.
According to a detailed press release from the sheriff’s department, the crowd became “increasingly agitated and resorted to throwing rocks at security and sheriff’s personnel.”
As the van began to leave, a large group of “Pandits,” police say, ran toward the front gate. The van was able to get out. The angry crowd, now estimated by authorities to number 70 protesters, knocked down a gate at 170th Street and began walking east, blocking the road.
The group’s website describes a goal of using meditation and related, “scientifically confirmed” techniques in order to bring world peace. Pandits are brought in to help achieve that goal through full-time meditation. William Goldstein, the dean of Global Development and general counsel for Maharishi University of Management, answered questions Tuesday. The group has been there for years, and this incident is unique, he said.
“A Vedic Pandit who was part of the group on the Iowa Vedic Pandit campus … was being escorted off the premises … for internal disciplinary reasons. A large group of this Pandit’s friends were apparently upset at this decision by the Pandit administration and attempted to block his transport.”
The sheriff’s release said the officer attempted to divert the largest part of the group back to their complex, but was “unable to do so.”
According to the release, “the group then surrounded the marked patrol vehicle and threw rocks at the driver, threw rocks at the back window, breaking the window, attempted to break off mirrors, kicked out a back light and were rocking the vehicle.”
The crowd surrounding the sheriff’s car was estimated between 70 and 80 protesters. The officer called for assistance after backing away from the crowd. The group kept heading east, with members picking up rocks and debris along the roadside, which they continued throwing at the sheriff’s car.
Goldstein noted no one was injured.
“No similar incidents or violence has occurred in the seven year history of this program where over 2,600 Pandits have come to Iowa to participate in this unprecedented cultural exchange … which involves the Pandits engaging full time in daily group meditation and Vedic performances.”
Pandit leaders were able to guide the group back to their campus before the group had gone more than a half mile. Though there was some property damage, no one was injured.
Richmond told the Courier no arrests have been made, and “no charges are pending” at this time.
News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark.